The Monkey Talks (1927)

Legendarily prolific director Raoul Walsh (White Heat, Cheyenne) helms this beautiful and relentlessly bizarre circus fantasia winding around a love triangle between a comely tightrope walker, a diminutive acrobat hired by the circus to impersonate a monkey with the power of speech, and Pierre, the jilted performer who poses as the “animal’ trainer” (whew!) The legendary makeup effects from this late-period silent come courtesy of Jack Pierce, the famous monster creator who later went onto great fame with devising the visages of The Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster and a host of other creepy crawlers. Based on a French stage play that became an international sensation, The Monkey Talks casts the incredibly expressive Jacques Lerner, who originated the role in France, as the monkey-man. Lerner’s sensitive performance transforms a macabre, potentially melodramatic story into a turbulent romance and a meditation on greed and sacrifice. Freakish thrills, spectacles, and villains abound, but the heart of the film resides in Lerner’s poignant turn, which elevates this unusual fairy tale into a silent classic.
Dir. Raoul Walsh, 1927, 35mm, 60 min. (Archival print courtesy of the George Eastman House)